What is the value of a British solider’s life?

Remember the that image; it’s a composite image of the first 100 soldiers that had died in Afghanistan by June 2008. It was big news but how many can say what the current total is; the most recent death brings the number to 446 since 2001. That’s 446 people who will never have one more drink, go out with friends or see their homes and 446 families that have lost a child, parent or loved one. The flip side of this is of course what they have manage to achieve; the removal of an extremist government, installed a democratic government and provided some stability to the region but despite the peacekeeping efforts of UN forces tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have died. With a backdrop of troop removal, is it time to ask, was it worth it.

We went in to get Osama Bin Laden and overthrow the Taliban government that was fostering Al-Qaeda, and I would agree that we achieved that but the loss of life and the injuries suffered by British troops do beg the question of whether it was actually worth it. 446 lives to kill one man and overthrow a government. Al-Qaeda is an ideological based organisation that isn’t shackled to a landmass hence why when the US invaded in 2001 Osama moved across a border and it took us a decade to find him. Putting the military objectives and achievements issues aside is 446 people a price that we are prepared to pay for this. Why is it that all these people die and it almost seems that because they are soldiers that, that somehow makes it alright? Let’s say that a new disease kills 400 this winter (think of the recent Measles outbreak) and how much media coverage that would get so why isn’t it the same with the death of a soldier.

The value of a soldier is being at least understood by politicians where the government is facing criticism for not being more involved in Syria. This policy at least will prevent more British troops from losing their lives and more coffins being flown home. The objectives of the Afghan war against the loss of life is one question but at its heart is a more pressing matter. What do we define as an acceptable gain to sacrifice the lives of a hundred, ten or one life? Let’s say that Osama didn’t die until a thousand British troops had died would we still think it was worth it. In comparison to the world wars or previous conflicts these figures may seem low but in an age of Human Rights and the value placed on a human life what value do we place on the life of someone who risks their life in the name of the freedom, prosperity and peace that we enjoy and frankly take for granted?

Jack Fennell


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